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Petr Uhl: How to handle the "violators" of public order

Prague, 2.10.2011 16:26, (ROMEA)
Former Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Petr Uhl.

Once during the olden days before 1989 I read in a humorous collection of court and police records the following statement made by a low-level official of the regime: "The suspect was disciplined three times, once by the caretaker of a fruit orchard." Yes, yes, pears are not to be stolen.

Czech MP Ivana Řápková (Civic Democrats - ODS) , who links the previous regime's love of "order" with new, fascist-tinged trends here, submitted a bill in the spring to amend the law on misdemeanors in order to protect "decent" people from the "inadaptables". (This is her anti-social vocabulary I am using.) Her proposal is that violations of public order be punished, punished and punished again.

Řápková is a graduate of the infamous Law Faculty in Plzeň. Like others, she didn't do much studying there, but according to Deputy Justice Minister František Korbel, she cannot be deprived of her Master's Degree. I will therefore refer to her as Master Řápková. As a warrior against poor people, rather than against poverty, she deserves it. She was not stripped of her title, so it's hers by rights.

The ODS party dissuaded Master Řápková from pursuing this bill, so she withdrew it and submitted a new one proposing that municipal misdemeanor commissions be empowered to ban people's residency in a municipality if they repeatedly violate public order (and are not permanent residents of the municipality). Currently, only a court is permitted to hand down such a punishment, and only for felonies. I suppose one day municipalities will be permitted to imprison people, punish them by confiscating their assets, ban them from performing certain activities, or keep them under house arrest too. That would keep things calm so some work could get done!

Left-wing journalists such as myself normally leave no stone unturned when reporting on the Nečas cabinet, which has so protected corruption in this country When someone like me praises the Government, it should be a surprise. In this case, I must praise them.

The Government's standpoint of 17 August rejects the bill submitted by MPs Řápková, Gazdík, Polčák and three others from the ODS and Public Affairs Party (VV). The cabinet based its rejection on the principles of the rule of law, as anyone can see by reading the standpoint online. The only pity is that none of the cabinet members took the time to make a statement to the lower house about the bill and did not even bother showing up for the vote there.

The Government says the bill obviously violates the statute of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing freedom of movement. (The previous political regime fell, in part, because that freedom was not permitted.) All of the Government's objections are based in the rule of law. It is only our Master Řápková who wants to revive authoritarian, undemocratic approaches.

However, the Government is not publicizing which of its members voted in favor of the bill, nor who was even at the cabinet session. Without this information, the citizens cannot be informed when they go to vote themselves. The minutes of the session only reveal that 11 cabinet members were present and that nine of them (the closest possible majority with a cabinet of 16 members) voted in favor of the standpoint rejecting the bill. In the lower house, where ministers Chalupa, Dobeš, Nečas, Peake, Pospíšil and Schwarzenberg are also MPs, none of them attended the vote on the bill, which has since passed the first-reading phase.

Czech MP Polčák (TOP 09) withdrew his co-authorship of the bill in protest against Řápková's remarks about Romani people. Perhaps it was thanks to this that most of the TOP 09 MPs abstained from voting on the bill (even though they did not vote against it).

The end result, of a mere 64 votes rejecting the bill, 57 votes approving it, and 26 abstaining, is a shame. The opposition Social Democratic MPs are to blame for this. All but one of them voted to reject the bill, but 19 of them did not even attend the vote. It was they who made it possible for the bill to proceed to the second-reading phase.

Published in the daily Právo on 29. 9. 2011.

Gwendolyn Albert, Petr Uhl, Petr Uhl, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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